Updated: Sep 26
Title: Zac and Mia
Author: A.J Betts
Published: 24th July 2014
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction Pages: 310 Start Date: 3rd September 2022
Finish Date: 4th September 2022
When I was little I believed in Jesus and Santa, spontaneous combustion, and the Loch Ness monster. Now I believe in science, statistics, and antibiotics.
So says seventeen-year-old Zac Meier during a long, grueling leukemia treatment in Perth, Australia. A loud blast of Lady Gaga alerts him to the presence of Mia, the angry, not-at-all-stoic cancer patient in the room next door. Once released, the two near-strangers can’t forget each other, even as they desperately try to resume normal lives. The story of their mysterious connection drives this unflinchingly tough, tender novel told in two voices.
For communicating the day-to-day mundane madness of cancer, A.J Betts deserves high praise. In the first half of ‘Zac and Mia’, Betts tackles what happens in the thick of fighting. She presents Zac a few days into his isolation after a bone marrow transfer. She writes about him being waylaid by a common cold, and how he looks like Jabba the Hutt, bald and bloated from medication. When we first meet him, Zac is bored and sick of himself, he is counting the tiles on the roof and eavesdrops on his neighbours as they go through the routines he has come to know by heart. Everyone probably knows someone or of someone who has/had cancer. And I can attest to the waiting lunacy and monotony there is in ‘fighting’ for your life. So I love that A.J Betts presented that side of Zac and Mia’s story, it is not pretty, and it does mean that the book has a slow beginning, but I think it was so important that A.J Betts show that side of cancer; the truth and the tedium.
It is in this slow but important beginning that we learn the most about Zac. That he was a healthy football player before fatigue and slight sores made way for much worse. And that while he tries to remain strong for his ever-present mum and Facebook friends, Zac has his reservations and fears. Especially since he knows what it’s like to not be cured, for treatment not to work the first time round;
Part one of the book was ‘Zac’ and all from his perspective, part two is ‘and’ and part three is ‘Mia’. Between ‘and’ and ‘Mia’ the story shifts rather monumentally to the outside world and especially onto Mia; who copes very differently than Zac with her cancer. Mia has issues at home and amongst her popular friendship group. She’s used to being desired and desirable, parties and boys are her normal so when cancer interrupts her life she tries to maintain her status quo, with disastrous results. Mia is angry, and for that reason she may not be terribly likeable, initially. But readers will probably find her prickly, mostly because Mia is the antithesis to all those phony portrayals of what cancer ‘survivors’ and strugglers should act like. Zac actually tows the line in many ways; he’s scared but battling and hopeful. Mia is just angry, angry at her mum and the nurses, her stupid leg and the way her seemingly perfect life has been interrupted. She cannot stand the thought of attending her school formal on crutches or in a wig, and she’s going to do all she can to get as far away from reminders of her illness as she can. I liked her. I liked that she ranted and railed to the point of annoyance because she bloody well should be mad at everyone. It’s not fucking fair, and good on her for letting them know it. Of course, Mia can’t run away from herself and what her body is doing, any more than she can try to put distance between her and the problems she’s created.
What didn’t work for me so much was the ‘and’ middle part of the story. I was quite happy for Zac’s beginning to be slow, and I actually quite liked that A.J Betts mirrored the mundane hospital life to introduce us to these characters and set their stage. But I did think the middle dragged a bit; and while I liked Zac and Mia individually, together I was never so sure or entirely sold or quite certain what I was meant to be feeling about the two of them.
In a book that features cancer, authors can go an easy path and get cheap emotion but A.J Betts kept it real the whole way and her book was stronger for it. The ending loomed ahead the whole time and it surprised me just how perfect and true it felt.
Zac has more of an acceptance to his cancer diagnose which i wasn't expecting because you don't see many stories like that however Zac just accepted the fact and tried to live as normal as he possibly could. Mia was a bit annoying in the beginning without arrogant and angry she was being towards everything but i could understand of where she was coming from because being a situation like that would be extremely difficult.
This story was not just about two characters who have cancer it was about how you deal with it, friends not being able to understand, the pity people give you in those situations. It was about Zac and Mia and how they bonded and created a wonderful friendship to help each other through this extremely tough time. The strength of A.J Betts novel is how well she gets inside her character's head. Her characters felt real, her dialogue is spot-on, the supporting characters truly shine in their own ways, and Zac and Mia's perspectives ring unique and true. Everything feels raw and real, completely grounded.